ACL Update 6-27-19

Creating a More Welcoming World for Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deaf-Blind Individuals

HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan participates in technology demonstration at Gallaudet University with David Thornton.

HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan participates in technology demonstration simulating a noisy real-world environment
at Gallaudet University with David Thornton.

From smartphones to social media, technology is reshaping our world. For people with disabilities, advancements in technology and engineering have the potential to knock down long-standing barriers to communication, employment, and full community participation. ACL’s National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) works to translate that potential into real-life solutions that increase choices, opportunities, and accommodations.

For more than 30 years, NIDILRR has funded a variety of research projects at Gallaudet University — a pioneer in advancing educational opportunities and research for the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. On June 25, HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan and ACL Administrator Lance Robertson got an up-close look at the impact of Gallaudet’s NIDILRR-funded work at the university in Washington, DC.

NIDILRR-funded projects at Gallaudet include the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Improving the Accessibility, Usability, and Performance of Technology for Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. A key principle behind Gallaudet’s work is that people who are deaf or hard of hearing should be directly involved in developing solutions to address the barriers they experience.

“No one walks in our shoes or has our experience,” said Christian Vogler, Ph.D., Director of Gallaudet’s Technology Access Program. Involving the community in these projects ensures that technologies address real-life needs and situations. Deputy Secretary Hargan, who learned American Sign Language as a child to communicate with a friend, was eager to experience first-hand how some of this technology works. Sitting in the center of an elaborate speaker system, he experienced what it was like for people who are hard of hearing to follow a conversation while driving. Individuals experiencing hearing loss will often test a hearing aid in a clinic, but then grow frustrated when the device does not work as well in the real world. The RERC’s simulation technology helps audiologists adjust hearing aid settings to optimize communication in realistic situations and increase use and usability of hearing aids.

In the lab next door, ACL Administrator Lance Robertson watched as David Bush, a consumer participant in the research project, demonstrated how a RERC-developed tele-rehabilitation program taught him to use his cochlear implant more effectively. Bush lost his hearing as an adult due to a degenerative condition that runs in his family. He first used hearing aids, but in 2016 received a cochlear implant, which has made a “dramatic difference” in his ability to communicate with others.

Graduate student Kate Witham demonstrates technologies to ACL Administrator Lance Robertson and HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan.

Graduate student Kate Witham demonstrates a tele-rehabilitation program for ACL Administrator Lance Robertson and HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan.

Also on hand was Judy Alden, who is part of a train-the-trainer program the RERC is piloting with the Hearing Loss Association of America. The program recruits trainers who are deaf or hard of hearing to train others experiencing hearing loss in using hearing technology. It aims to increase knowledge, skills, and understanding of hearing loss. Alden, who started losing hearing in her 30s and who has used hearing aids for more than 20 years, wants to help prevent the isolation that may come with hearing loss. She has reached more than 175 health professionals, older adults, and family members through formal sessions and many more through informal networking.

Linda Kozma-Spytek captured the idea behind the project with a simple question, “who better to learn from if you're a new hearing aid learner than people who have gone through this experience before?”

Reflecting on the impact of the RERC’s work, Gallaudet University President Roberta (Bobbi) Cordano, J.D. said, “we know that the work that we're doing here is supporting the personal and professional success of deaf and hard of hearing individuals throughout their lifespan.”

“We're creating a world that is more welcoming and more supportive for deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind individuals,” President Cordano added.

Learn more about NIDILRR’s RERC Program.

ACL Update 05-01-2019



Older Americans Month logo

by Assistant Secretary for Aging and ACL Administrator Lance Robertson

Every day, all around us, older adults make a positive impact in our communities. As employees, volunteers, mentors, and advocates, they are an integral part of America’s social fabric. Their experience and insights enrich and strengthen our neighborhoods, workplaces, and families.

That’s why ACL takes time each May to honor their valuable contributions and celebrate Older Americans Month (OAM). People of all ages can celebrate OAM and help older adults thrive. With the 2019 theme, Connect, Create, and Contribute, ACL invites you to:

  • Connect with friends, family, and services that support participation
  • Create through activities that promote learning, health, and personal enrichment
  • Contribute time, talent, and life experience to benefit others

ACL offers information about resources to assist older adults, family members, care providers, organizations, and neighbors connect, create, and contribute. We have also put together a list of suggested activities to celebrate OAM.

We encourage you to Connect, Create, and Contribute for stronger communities this month and throughout the year. Visit for ways to get started and watch our blog for upcoming posts that explore ways to connect, create, and contribute in your communities.

Follow ACL on Twitter and Facebook, and join the conversation using #OAM19 and #ConnectCreateContribute.

Go to the official OAM website

ACL Update 03-15-2019

usacl newsevents crop

At Senior Centers, Meals Become Gateways to Activities, Services, and Connections

March 15, 2019

HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan and ACL Administrator Lance Robertson arrived at the Walter Reed Community and Senior Center in Arlington, VA just before lunch time, and the center was full of activity.

Various activities at the Walter Reed Center
Top: Two older adults play pool at the Walter Reed Center. Middle: HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan and ACL Administrator Lance Robertson meet Blanche Kirchner, 97, who has been teaching art at the center for 40 years. Bottom: Volunteers from the Virginia Cooperative Extension host an "Eat the Rainbow" healthy cooking demonstration.

"Let's do this," a man said as he prepared to take a shot at the pool table. In the gym, the 55-and-over basketball game was gearing up. Down the hall, the intermediate line dancing class practiced a dance choreographed to Alec Benjamin's "Let Me Down Slowly.”  Next door, Blanche Kirchner led a painting class, as she has for 40 years. At 97 years old, Kirchner is Arlington County’s longest-serving employee.

Hargan and Robertson were visiting the center to help kick off National Nutrition Month®. The center is one of thousands of senior centers, churches, schools, and other community spaces serving meals through the congregate meals program established by the Older Americans Act. Together, these programs serve more than 75 million meals a year to over 1.5 million Americans.

As many as half of older Americans are malnourished or at risk of being malnourished, and nearly 5 million Americans lack consistent access to enough food for a healthy life. With food insecurity and malnutrition associated with a variety of negative health outcomes, including more frequent and longer hospitalizations, the congregate meals program plays an important role in helping older adults remain healthy and independent.

In fact, 58% of participants say that the meal they receive through the program provides at least half of their total food for the day. A 2017 evaluation found that participants in the program have better diets and are less likely to face food insecurity compared to similarly-situated older adults not participating in the program.

While nutrition is the most obvious benefit of the meals programs, the older adults at the Walter Reed Center would be the first to tell you they are getting much more than lunch.

"When I'm here, I talk with everybody," said Lem Lem Ekoubegize. "I love it. I don't want to miss it."

She is not the only one. 80% of congregate meal participants surveyedby the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs said they had more friends after joining the program.

"A big problem that we see is that older Americans often become socially isolated from each other," Hargan said while visiting the Walter Reed Center. "So a center like this, where people come for the food but they stay for the company, is really important."

Like malnutrition, loneliness and social isolation can have grave consequences for older adults' health. For example, social isolation is associated with higher blood pressure and earlier onset of dementia. Older adults who are socially isolated also face a greater risk of being targeted for abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

The meal programs also often serve as a gateway to other important services and activities. More than two-thirds of congregate meal providers also offer other activities for older adults, with more than half offering at least 25 hours of activities a week. Seniors who drop by for meals often stay for these activities and have the opportunity to learn about services and programs they otherwise may not know about, such as heating assistance or prescription drug assistance programs.

The combination of nutrition, socialization, and connection to other resources and activities may help explain why participating in a congregate meal program leads to better health and a greater likelihood of staying in the community.

The 2017 evaluation of the program found that older adults participating in congregate meal programs are less likely to be admitted to a hospital or nursing home. The gap was particularly stark among lower income older adults. For example, 4.5% of lower income older adults participating in congregate meal programs had been admitted to a hospital after an ER visit in the nine month before they were interviewed, compared to nearly 16% of those not participating in the program.

Ekoubegize participates in Tai Chi and monthly health and wellness sessions led by doctors, nurses, and nutritionists. Recently, her primary care physician told her she was in good health and asked what she was doing to stay healthy.

"I'm listening to the (people at the Walter Reed Center) who come for my health," she recalled telling her doctor. "Whatever they tell me, I do it."

These health improvements can result in a better quality of life for seniors. They also save money for programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

"(Seniors) want to be able to be in their homes but they also want the opportunity to be able to socialize, to meet other people, to do these activities, and also to have a meal," Hargan says. "It’s a great thing, and it does help with our stewardship of taxpayer dollars as well … It's really a win-win."

"We know that the lonely and sedentary lifestyle is harmful," said Cheng Ping Feng, who participates in the Walter Reed Center's congregate meals program. She says the meals and other activities at the center allow older adults "to choose the active way."


ACL Update 02-14-19


American Heart Month

Cardiovascular disease is prevalent in our society, disproportionately impacting older Americans. According to the American Heart Association, more than 85 million American adults have one of more types of cardiovascular disease. Of these, more than 43 million (approximately half) are age 60 or older.

Across the country, ACL partner organizations are hosting educational events in recognition of American Heart Month. In Georgia, Open Hand Atlanta offers a tailored nutrition-focused heart health class at local senior centers throughout the month of February. In Utah, Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services is promoting American Heart Month by providing opportunities for blood pressure screening and a heart health presentation in each of their 16 senior centers. Additionally, the senior centers are encouraging older adults to attend at least three physical activity programs, including evidence-based interventions such as EnhanceFitness, Tai Chi for Arthritis, and the Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program. And in New Jersey at the West Windsor Senior Center, older adults can participate in carotid artery and blood pressure screenings, as well as ongoing physical activity programs.

ACL also supports the delivery of evidence-based chronic disease self-management education programs (CDSME) in communities across the country. CDSME programs provide older adults and adults with disabilities with education and tools to help them better manage chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease. More than 383,000 individuals have participated in these impactful interventions since 2010. The most common chronic condition reported by program participants is hypertension (41%), and one-third of participants reported having high cholesterol. Further, 13% of participants reported a diagnosis of heart disease, and 5% indicated having had a stroke.

Finally, the Carter Burden Network, one of ACL’s Innovations in Nutrition Programs and Services grantees, is addressing the high cardiovascular risk of uncontrolled hypertension among older adults by testing a multi-component intervention that includes the DASH Eating Plan.

Visit to learn how you can spread the word about American Heart Month.

ACL UPDATE 01-22-2019

News & Events

ACL Announces $3 Million Investment to Strengthen Adult Protective Services

ACL is pleased to announce an approximately $3 million investment to continue efforts to develop tools and infrastructure to support states in building the Adult Protective Services (APS) of tomorrow.  Over the next three years, ACL will undertake the following tasks:

  • Update the National Voluntary Consensus Guidelines for State Adult Protective Services Systems on the 2-year schedule established at launch, create a dissemination plan for the guidelines, and produce a research agenda to build a stronger evidence-base of best practices in APS.
  • Design and implement an APS client outcomes study evaluating how various micro-, mezzo-, and macro- system components impact APS client outcomes.
  • Create an inventory of screening and assessment tools used by APS and others to screen for elder abuse, and assess each tool’s level of validity.

The investment is the result of a partnership between ACL’s Office of Elder Justice and Adult Protective Services and ACL’s Office of Performance and Evaluation.  This work will be carried out by New Editions Consulting, Inc. (a woman-owned small business), and is part of ACL’s ongoing commitment to support the development and evolution of APS systems, and to strengthen APS’ capacity to address the abuse, neglect, and exploitation too often faced by older adults and adults with disabilities.  These projects further ACL’s vision for older Americans and people with disabilities to be able to live where they choose, with the people they choose, and fully participate in their communities without threat of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

Visit the Protecting Rights and Preventing Abuse section of the ACL website to learn more about these efforts.

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